Milan Štěpánek

* 1929  

  • “The first impression was horrifying. The building hadn’t been maintained much during the war. Russian soldiers had been accommodated there, and that was horrendous, in some parts really disgusting. We had no idea until then. None of us had the slightest clue about some AEC. We didn’t know what to expect. First off, we packed our mats with straw, and then we went to get our uniforms. And that was where it got strange. Because we got uniforms that used to belong to German soldiers; the luckier ones got old American uniforms. But either way we found it odd that they didn’t have any proper uniforms for us.”

  • “October, the mist was rolling in. After our first morning warm-up we had roll call. We were all dressed differently, people bartered and changed. This one small, morose captain came up. He reminded me of one lieutenant from Švejk [a famous Czech comedy book by Jaroslav Hašek - transl.]. His first words were: ‘Do you know where you are? Do you know who you are? You are outcasts of human society! But we’ll see to you!’ Of course, we were surprised. We didn’t know each other. We didn’t know that sixty per cent of us were farmers’ sons and so on. It was a dreadful experience. Suddenly some six boys came up in underpants. Those were easterners, Baptists. They’d refused to wear uniforms, so they sent them out to roll call in their underwear. And how cold it was back then! By that time we understood all to well what was going on there.”

  • “Because I was smallish, I was put to work in the low-ceiling shafts. There was a Pole in front of me with a jackhammer. By the way, I didn’t understand a word of what he said. He was lying on his belly, I sat behind him with a long shovel. Whatever he broke up, I shoved on to the belt, from which it fell down into the cart. There was no safety equipment. I spat black dust in the evening.”

  • “Sometime in August two gentlemen arrived with an official decree that our company was being nationalised. They drove up into the yard, and all the workers gathered around them. Some pretty wild times started then. My father was shown the said decree. He just said: ‘Yes, I am aware of it.’ Then they confiscated the books, they took the ready money. Dad came home and said: ‘Well, we’ve lost practically everything...’ And then he added with a smile: ‘But it’ll all go bananas in two years’ time, and they’ll give it all back again!’”

  • “I came home and told my wife: ‘You’ll be washing overalls again! The director stipulated that I have to join the party.’ But she remembered: ‘But the headmaster of our children’s home is in the Czechoslovak Socialist Party. And he’s the headmaster!’ Some two days later she came, saying they’d take me in immediately. And they were even part of the National Front. I told her to negotiate it for me. They invited me to the motor club - big glass windows, elegant chairs. All the old cream of the crop - a professor, a Hradec businessman, and so on. I joined up. About two months later there was a meeting at work to say goodbye to the sales manager, who was leaving. The director kept me there once everyone had left, and he asked: ‘What’s your situation politically? Did you join the party?’ And I replied: ‘Yes, comrade director, I am a party member!’ He was awfully surprised, which party was I actually a member of,” Štěpánek laughs. “The director told me: ‘Can you imagine what will happen when we go to the Communist Party headquarters? You have to show your membership card at the entrance! When you show them yours, the gatekeeper will shoot you on the spot!’ And sometime after the third vodka he said: ‘But you got me nicely! I have to admit that.’”

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    Hradec Králové, 27.06.2013

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Dad said it would all be over in two years’ time and they’d give us the company back

zdroj: archiv pamětníka

Milan Štěpánek was born on 1 August 1929 in Dobřenice, a small village in eastern Bohemia, near Hradec Králové. His father was a successful businessman from the 1930s. The family firm dealt with the processing and distribution of wood, but it also traded with coal and built single-family houses. The Štěpáneks also owned a coffee roasting business, a chicory plant, and a transport company. Their enterprise was nationalised before February 1948. The witness studied at a business academy. He was then supposed to start work under his father, but the company was nationalised only a few weeks after he was employed there. His father Milan Štěpánek was sent to a forced labour camp in Pardubice. In the meantime his son had to find himself a new job. He became a wood buyer for the state enterprise Lesy (Forests). In 1951 he was drafted into compulsory military service and assigned to the Auxiliary Engineering Corps (AEC; forced labour corps), which he had known nothing about until then. After boot camp he was variously allocated to units in Děčín, Tábor, Trenčín, and Ostrava. After returning home he worked first as a coal miner, and then as a driver for Ingstav (an infrastructure construction company). From 1968 he worked in the sales department of a furniture firm, and his last job was as an inspector of the sale of musical instruments at Melodie.